Meal Time

“Oh Good, More For Me!”

is what I say when my kids don’t want to eat what I have painstakingly made. (Violins being played, actually, I am not a very good cook!) But I hear over and over from families who love to eat well, one of the parents is a fabulous cook, and their kids will only eat 5 things, of course none of them being whatever the parents love to eat.

It can be demoralizing. Frustrating. Insane making. But is it a problem? Parents ask me all the time, how can they get their kids to eat that food? What tricks can they play? There must be something!

i keep asking: What is the Problem? “Well, the kids only eat the same five things.” Are they healthy and thriving and on their growth curve? I ask. Are they getting a range of the food groups roughly, or are they at risk for scurvy? Usually those questions are yes, and no. But parents still pull their hair out.

On further questioning, the worry that their kids will never enjoy food like they do and will miss out on a pleasurable part of life, comes out. That they will eat this way forever.

I say: Not likely, and not likely. Most kids who are picky eaters grow out it by age 13 when biology kicks in, (growth spurts) and their senses fully develop. (Remember, eating involves the three senses: touch, taste and smell!) However, it is sad and a loss to not be able to enjoy the food together.

So here is my tip: Continue to enjoy the beautiful food you make with your partner, wife, husband, and model your enjoyment with your kids. Continue to eat together. Take the stress out of the mealtimes, by all of you, relaxing and enjoying the food. Be dogmatic about mealtimes being about connecting and hanging out together, not necessarily about eating. Enjoy those golden moments. Now that can fill you up. Who knows? One of them might be the next Alice Waters.

“I don’t want to eat that!”

As I ponder what to make for dinner tonight, I alternate between wanting to grab the latest take-out menu (one of the benefits of living in NYC!) and then realize that of course, to please my one vegetarian kid, the other almost vegetarian and now incredibly picky eater, and the youngest who has shifted from being the pickiest eater in the family to now really wanting her well balanced meal with veggies, I just feel like giving up before starting. I have to admit that I hate preparing food. Ironic given my field and the book I wrote, focusing on food and kids and all the lecturing I do on the topic. Even more ironic, the fact that the less I am invested in needing my kids to ‘eat well’, the more they seem to want to. (Yes Mom, we do need a vegetable tonight!) Don’t get me wrong, I really do try to feed my kids healthy foods and have that array on hand, but I have to admit that with work, their crazy schedules and everyone’s crazy tastes shifting around from week to week, (“No mom, I hate salmon! Where’d you get the idea I’d want to eat that?!” ‘Just from the last three months of asking for it and eating it happily, I feel like yelling back.) Countless parents say the same thing; they either cook several meals for different kids, or have other rules. I will share the one I go by and of course, cave at times, and say: “Go get a slice!”
1) Have one meal you are serving that seems to make some people happy; you, your husband, wife, one kid perhaps
2) For older kids who can use the microwave, allow them to pick when you are grocery shopping, something that can be heated up and eaten for a meal.
3) For younger kids, have them pick something they can get from the fridge or make themselves; yogurt, a bowl of cereal, a piece of cheese.
The rule is they have to figure out how to eat it and it has to offer some nutritional value. I don’t get too hung up on what kind of nutrition as it seems to all balance out for the most part with me checking in from time to time: “What are you going to have for protein?” With the information they have on hand, the more responsibility I put on them, the more they take. Of course, I may just order take out tonight!

Think Outside the Lunchbox

Tips on packing your kids’ school lunch:
1) Think smaller; half a sandwich, burrito
2) Edamame, chickpeas are additional protein sources if peanuts are not allowed in your school
3) Add a treat if your kid likes this; you don’t need them eating other kids’ treats if they want them!
4) Capitalize on ‘after school hunger’ by giving them food food, to avoid snacking non stop till dinner